Are U.S., Canada still crushing world of women’s hockey?

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source: Getty Images

SOCHI, Russia — Don’t let the final score fool you. This was not a particularly close game. The United States beat Finland, 3-1, Saturday in the first women’s hockey game of the Olympics, but for the really telling stat, one must consider the shots: 43 for the Americans, only 15 for the Finns.

Fifty-three seconds is all it took for U.S. forward Hilary Knight to open the scoring at Shayba Arena, capitalizing on a giveaway to beat the Finns’ superb (and busy) goalie, Noora Raty.

“Obviously, to have an opportunity to score in the first minute of the game sets the tone,” said U.S. coach Katey Stone.

The Americans dominated after Knight’s goal. The score was 3-0 by the end of the second period, with the shots 33-7. The Finns managed a power-play goal late in the third to spoil Jessie Vetter’s shutout bid, but the outcome was all but official by then.

Stone, though, was eager to give her opponent credit.

“They played very well in front of Noora Raty,” she said. “It’s not just about the goaltending. It’s about how well that their team plays in front of her. They made it very difficult for us.”

Stone was also sure to express her belief that the women’s Olympic tournament is a “world event that anyone can win.”

WATCH: How impressive was U.S. victory?

Finland is the third-ranked team in the world, by the way. The U.S. is first, Canada, a 5-0 winners vs. Switzerland on Saturday, is second.

And the competitiveness of the women’s tournament is, of course, a sensitive topic. In 2010, the U.S. and Canada so badly dominated the rest of the teams that then-IOC president Jacques Rogge threatened its place in the Olympics.

“There is a discrepancy there. Everyone agrees with that,” he said. “We cannot continue without improvement.”

Hence, sensitivities to suggestions there hasn’t been enough “improvement” in the “discrepancy” department.

This year’s tournament even has a new, unique format to reduce the number of blowouts – like Canada over Slovakia 18-0, or the United States defeating Russia 13-0 – that occurred in Vancouver.

In Sochi, there’s an A group with the top four seeds (U.S., Canada, Finland, Switzerland) and a B group with seeds 5-8 (Sweden, Japan, Russia, Germany). For the preliminary round, all the teams in the A group will play each other, and all the teams in the B group will play each other. After that, the top two in the A group will get a bye to the semifinals, while the bottom two in the A group and the top two in the B group will meet in the quarters.

WATCH: Highlights from 3-1 U.S. victory

It’s extremely unlikely, but theoretically, a team in the A group could lose all three of its preliminary round games and still win the gold medal.

That isn’t how most tournaments work.

U.S. forward Amanda Kessel said Saturday that she doesn’t worry about it.

“I just see all the other teams getting better every year,” she said, “and I think our rivalry with Canada, that just makes people want to watch more.”

U.S. captain Meghan Duggan struck a similar tone.

“To be honest, the media makes it a bigger deal than we do in our locker room,” she said.

But Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser, arguably the greatest women’s hockey player ever, isn’t quite so carefree.

“I think I always worry about the future of women’s hockey, mainly because of the fact that most of the world pays attention to the game only two weeks out of every four years,” Wickenheiser said earlier this week, according to the Globe and Mail. “The tournament has to be competitive, there’s no question, and countries have to show progress. That’s the number one thing.”

Progress, though, is a tough thing to measure, because it’s not like the top two countries are standing still.

“The problem is that Canada and the U.S. continue to improve and it’s harder for the other countries to catch up. So that’s a dilemma that women’s hockey is always going to face,” Wickenheiser said.

“I think the game has really come a long way in the [four] Olympics that we’ve seen.”

The U.S. plays Switzerland Monday before closing out the preliminary round Wednesday versus Canada.

Ashton Eaton named male IAAF Athlete of the Year

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American decathlete Ashton Eaton was named the 2015 male Athlete of the Year by the International Association of Athletics Federations, the world governing body for track and field. Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba, the reigning world champion in the 1500m, was named the female IAAF Athlete of the Year.

Eaton is the first decathlete and just the eighth American man to win the title. Tyson Gay in 2007 was the last American man to be named.

The honor came due to Eaton’s world-record-setting performance at the world championships held in Beijing this past August. There he beat the previous record, his own from the 2012 Olympic Trials, by nine points. He also set a world record for running the fastest 400m portion of the decathlon in 45.00 seconds.

In the IAAF press release, Eaton said, “Athletes spend the most vigorous years of human life, arguably called the ‘best years’, working to hone their abilities. So, when an athlete competes, what people are witnessing is the manifestation of what a human being is capable of when they choose to direct all of their time and effort towards something.

“I’m grateful and thankful to the IAAF for excellent competitions, the canvases that allow us to display our work.”

He also acknowledged sprinter Usain Bolt and triple jumper Christian Taylor, who were also up for the title: “While I’m honored that I am considered the ‘artist’ of the year, I did not beat Usain and Christian; my work simply differed in design. They are some of the most talented and beautiful performers of all time. I’m flattered to be among them.”

Dibaba has been unbeaten in the 1500m over five races in 2015. Along with winning gold and setting a world record in the 1500 at the Beijing World Championships, Diababa won a bronze medal in the 5000m event.

She gratefully accepted the award, saying, “After being a finalist and narrowly missing out on this award one year ago, I am very proud to be recognized by the fans and experts of our sport.

“I had a great season and truly enjoyed competing around the world, from Monaco where I managed to establish a world record, to Beijing where I finally captured my first world outdoor title.”

Dibaba was recently featured in a family-themed promotional video for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

MORE: Seb Coe splits from Nike as IAAF president


Olympians celebrate Thanksgiving

Meryl Davis
Team USA/ Twitter
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Nov. 26 – or Thanksgiving to the rest of us – is oftentimes a typical training day for many Olympians and Olympic hopefuls. Here’s a look at how some of them spent the day training, competing, celebrating, and being thankful.

Workout football and food😁👍!!! Happy thanksgiving everyone!!!

A photo posted by Michael Phelps (@m_phelps00) on

Happy Thanksgiving from our cold cuts Turkey to yours! #family #happyhappyheart

A photo posted by @cammileadams on

Happy Thanksgiving from the SwimMAC Parade crew!

A photo posted by Tyler Clary (@tylerclary) on


MORE: NBC’s Thanksgiving Rio promo